As Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were shooting the Golden State Warriors to their third NBA title in four seasons, retired voice of the Jayhawks Bob Davis reminded me that Brandon Rush guarded both of the NBA superstars.
Rush was on Curry for much of the night in 2008 when Kansas defeated Davidson, 59-57, in an Elite Eight game in Detroit. Curry scored 25 points but made just 9 of 25 field goals and 4 of 16 3-pointers.
“I tried not to let him get any air space,” Rush said of his approach against Curry. “The way he plays now, he can create so much space for himself. Nobody can do that like that guy.”
Rush was a teammate of Curry’s for two seasons (2014-15, 2015-16) and said it’s no mystery why Curry has improved so much.
“He works every day after practice, works on dribble moves,” Rush said. “Every day. Every single day. I tell that to everybody and nobody believes me, but it’s true. He does that after practice every single day.”
Durant scored 32 and 37 points against Kansas in his lone season at Texas. In the first game, he was making shot after shot, with Rush guarding him tightly.
“Just like he does now,” Rush said. “He got better, too. And it helps when you have four guys who know how to play and know where you want the ball. He’s having a good time out in the Bay. I’m happy for him.”
Rush last played an NBA game in 2016-17. He signed a 10-day contract with Portland in February, but never played in a game for the Trailblazers.
He said he wants to catch on with a team this coming season.
“Everybody doesn’t know I was really ill for a while,” he said. “I was sick. I had to be hospitalized for a while. I had a heart infection. It was crazy. I’m all better now.”
Rush has worked his way back into shape and has a shot to catch on with a roster because he’s a popular teammate, doesn’t rock the boat and is a good long-range shooter. His career 3-point percentage is .402.
Rush, 33, also moves his feet so well for someone with his length that he can defend multiple positions. He said he has had to guard LeBron James “plenty of times.”
“He’s a tough cover,” Rush said. “He’s big. People don’t realize how big he is. His shoulders are wide. He’s big as hell. He’s fast as hell.”
James is not the toughest player in the NBA for him to guard, though, Rush said. Instead, he cited two Portland guards from smaller college basketball programs as the toughest assignments for him.
“I would say C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard,” Rush said. “Those two are tough to guard.”
Myron Medcalf does a nice job of detailing why he considers Keelon Lawson to be “the most influential man in college basketball,” in a story he wrote for ESPN.com.
The gist of the story that appears under the headline, “Meet the new first family of college basketball”: Keelon Lawson not only has two highly ranked sons playing high school basketball in Memphis, but one of them might form a package deal with the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019.
Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson will make their debuts at Kansas this coming season after starring for two seasons at Memphis, where their father, Keelon Lawson, was demoted by Tubby Smith from the assistant coaching position for which Smith’s predecessor, Josh Pastner, hired him.
Ranked No. 47 in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, 6-foot-8 Chandler Lawson is being recruited by Kansas. Ranked No. 14 in the Class of 2021 by ESPN, Johnathan Lawson is a 6-6 forward.
The moment the older Lawson brothers transferred to Kansas, the Jayhawks became the favorites to land both younger brothers.
Chandler Lawson’s high school teammate, James Wiseman, is a 7-footer ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2019 by ESPN, and Medcalf writes that there is speculation that Wiseman and Chandler Lawson might form a package deal and attend the same college.
It seems as if those package deals seldom come to fruition though.
If Dedric and K.J. Lawson enjoy this season, KU would seem to be in great shape for landing at least Chandler Lawson, maybe even Wiseman.
But it’s not a slam dunk. Their coach at Memphis East High, Memphis basketball legend Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway of NBA fame, was hired by Memphis to replace Smith, who is in his first year at his alma mater, High Point University in High Point, N.C.
Smith was fired after two seasons on the job at Memphis, the beginning of the end of his tenure coming when he demoted Keelon Lawson. Hardaway, Medcalf writes, goes back 20 years with the Lawson family, so Memphis has a shot at restoring relations with the family.
If all goes well for the older Lawson brothers this season, though, KU could be difficult to beat for Chandler Lawson and Wiseman.
Dedric Lawson very well may be KU’s best player. How well the 6-7 K.J. Lawson makes the transition to the perimeter could factor in his playing time and in turn become an influence on where Chandler Lawson, and maybe even Wiseman, attend college in 2019-20. K.J. averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds and shot .328 from 3-point range as a sophomore for Memphis. He has made it clear he considers himself a guard. If his skills don't match his self-scout, it has the potential to develop into a sticky situation, something of a puzzle for Self to solve.
Following the advice of his agent, Billy Preston scratched at the last minute from the five-on-five portion of the NBA combine.
Considering he never played in a game for Kansas and was hurt after a few games in Bosnia, Preston stood to gain as much as anybody by scrimmaging. Yet, he was told to scratch.
It makes so little sense that it makes me wonder if Preston’s agent wants him to get drafted.
Maybe he figures Preston can get a better deal as a free agent than as a second-round pick with a non-guaranteed contract. That way he can try to figure out which team has the most need for a player of his size and skill set.
Otherwise, scratching just doesn’t make any sense.
Looking at the top 11 listed in the Rivals Class of 2017 recruiting rankings, three players have faded the most: Preston was ranked No. 11 and is projected to go No. 59 by The Athletic.
Mitchell Robinson, who had committed to Western Kentucky but decided to bypass college and spend the year preparing for the draft, was ranked No. 9 and is projected No. 39. Duke point guard Trevon Duval was ranked No. 5 and is projected to go 50th.
The cases of Robinson and Preston show that NBA General Managers give credit to players who show they can handle school, hard coaching and blending in with teammates. General managers didn’t get to see that with Preston and Robinson so it makes picking them a little riskier.
But all it takes is one GM willing to go off what he saw in high school.
A look at the top 11 Class of 2017 prospects ranked by Rivals:
|Michael Porter Jr.||Missouri||1||8|
|Marvin Bagley III||Duke||2||2|
|Jaren Jackson Jr.||Michigan State||6||4|
One of the scariest aspects of sports betting on its way to becoming legal involves "sure things," wagers you absolutely, positively, in no way, shape or form could lose.
For example, if Sprint Center would have had a sports book on March 16, 2008 and offered odds on Mario Chalmers becoming a first-round draft choice, I would emptied my pockets and all the change in my car's cup-holders and put it all on Chalmers.
That was the day Chalmers led Kansas to the Big 12 title by torching Texas for 30 points. He made 8 of 12 3-pointers and dished six assists. Everything about him screamed first-round draft choice. Nothing that happened in the clutch the rest of the season hurt his stock.
Yet, Chalmers spilled into the second round and was chosen with the 34th overall pick. Clearly, there is no accounting for the taste of NBA general managers.
Chalmers was the first of eight Kansas players chosen in the second round during Bill Self's tenure at Kansas. There have been 14 first-round picks.
Getting selected in the first round is a big deal because it guarantees two years of salary. For example, the last pick of the first round this season will be guaranteed about $2.1 million for his first two seasons.
Second-round selections aren't guarantee a nickel, so it's easy for teams to cut them.
Even so, all eight Self second-rounders played in the NBA, none getting much playing time, other than Chalmers and rookie Frank Mason.
Chalmers, an unrestricted free agent after averaging 7.7 points for the Memphis Grizzlies in 66 games, including 10 starts. He has earned $24.7 million in eight NBA seasons and was a starter for two NBA championships won by the Miami Heat.
None of KU's four draft prospects are projected in various mock drafts to be selected in the first round. Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and Billy Preston are all candidates to be taken in the second round.
A look at second-round draft choices during Self's tenure at Kansas:
|KU Player||Year drafted||Pick No.||NBA points||Rookie points|
I conducted an unscientific poll on Twitter, asking: “You’re an NBA GM with balanced roster, no glaring need. Which #KUbball player do you draft first?”
1 - Devonte’ Graham (31 percent)
2 - Svi Mykhailiuk (30 percent)
3 - Malik Newman (22 percent)
4 - Billy Preston (17 percent)
Not surprised that it was such a close call. A case could be made for all four.
A look at some measurements from the NBA draft combine:
|KU draft prospect||
|Devonte' Graham||6-1.5||186.4||6-6.25||8-0||Feb. 22, 1995|
|Malik Newman||6-3.25||189.2||6-5.5||8-2.5||Feb. 21, 1997|
||June 10, 1997|
|Billy Preston||6-10.5||222.4||7-2||9-0||Oct. 26, 1997|
The pros and cons of each KU prospect:
Graham pros: His personality perfectly suits the position he'll play in the NBA. You want your point guard to be an energetic, unselfish extrovert who enjoys interacting with people and playing the game. He already has NBA 3-point range, as Miami Heat executive Pat Riley witnessed from a court-side seat in the game against Syracuse in Miami. His long arms will help defensively. Graham projects as a reserve and the last thing any organization wants from a bench player is a malcontent who is a high risk to embarrass the organization by getting into off-court trouble. Nothing to worry about with Graham in those areas. He quickly will become a favorite of the community-outreach staff of whatever organization drafts him.
Graham cons: He wasn't a great finisher at the hoop in college and it's way more difficult in the NBA than in college for small players to score at the rim. Some cite his age (he turned 23 in February) as a negative because it means he's closer to his ceiling than younger prospects. That's not as important for guards as big men. Guards arrive in college closer to their ceilings. Plus there isn't a whole lot he needs to get better at. He's as good as his size and athletic ability will allow him to be and just needs to add NBA experience. His slight frame and how it will hold up against the pounding NBA players take is an issue.
Newman pros: He has a scorer's mentality, which suits the role that gives him the best shot at establishing himself as an NBA player, which is as a scorer off the bench. His deep range and explosive burst on drives to the hoop give him multiple ways to score. Also, he's a good defensive rebounder for a player his size.
Newman cons: He does not in any way think like a point guard and does not have the ballhandling and passing skills to play the position, so he'll have to make it as a shooting guard. His size shouldn't keep him from playing that position offensively, but becomes problematic at the other end of the floor.
Svi pros: His shooting touch is so soft he has the potential to develop into an instant-offense option off the bench. His already deep range will expand once he becomes stronger and puts in the practice hours. He also sees the floor well and is a skilled passer. The fact that he just turned 21 eight days ago is another plus because he'll add strength naturally as his body matures.
Svi cons: He plays shorter than his height, which limits him as a rebounder and defender. His short arms are partly responsible for that, but he also thinks like a perimeter player, which is a good thing given his skills until it's a bad thing in that it limits his versatility. Chances are slim that he'll ever develop into a starter because teams will target him defensively.
Preston pros: For a player his size, he shoots and handles the ball extremely well. He also has some explosiveness and should develop into a solid rebounder and reliable finisher on the break. Based on his physical qualities and basketball skills alone, he definitely has the highest ceiling of the four players. No KU player is projected to go in the first round, but if there is a draft-day surprise and one of them does, Preston would be the most likely, even though he also may be the most likely not to be drafted at all. An established team picking late in the first round and not having any glaring needs might want to take a chance on him. He's a loud talent.
Preston cons: Scouts didn't have a chance to see how he would respond to hard coaching because he never played in a real game for Kansas. Fair or unfair, his motor, maturity and unselfishness reportedly became question marks during the McDonald's All-American practices.
Twitter does not allow the creator of a poll to vote, so I couldn't cast one. Had I had the ability to do so, I would have voted for Graham, but not until after giving a lot of serious consideration to Preston.
The Athletic, ESPN.com, The Ringer and SI.com all do a nice job with their mock drafts. The four sites agree on two things regarding how KU players will fare in next Thursday night’s draft.
First, they predict that the first round will pass without any Jayhawks hearing their names called.
Second, they all have Malik Newman being drafted. Not even Devonte’ Graham appears on one site's projection. Svi Myhailiuk also did not make the cut in one mock draft and and Billy Preston appears on 2 of 4.
Interestingly, two sites have Newman going to the Lakers.
One guess has Graham going to the Wizards, where he could join Jayhawks Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. and would compete to become John Wall’s backup.
A look at where four websites have KU’s four prospects going in the upcoming draft:
|Player||The Ringer||SI.com||ESPN.com||The Athletic|
|Malik Newman||47 Lakers||53 Thunder||47 Lakers||49 Spurs|
|Devonte' Graham||44 Wizards||Free agent||40 Nets||60 76ers|
|Svi Mykhailiuk||Free agent||59 Suns||57 Thunder||45 Nets|
|Billy Preston||Free agent||60 76ers||Free agent||59 Suns|
Local basketball fans won’t have to go far for a first look at a possible Kansas star of the future.
N’Faly Dante, a 6-foot-11, 225-pound center from Mali ranked No. 4 by Rivals in the Class of 2020, is scheduled to play at 7:55 p.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Sports Pavilion at Rock Chalk Park.
Dante, who already has received scholarship offers from Kansas, Kentucky and countless others, plays for MoKan EYBL, which takes on the Colorado Hawks in the showcase game of the KC Classic. It will be the only game MoKan plays during the event.
"He can really move up and down the court and he's a great rim protector," said Matt Scott of The Shiver. "He's got a nice little jump shot, too. He can hit all the way out to 3. Once he learns more of a back-to-basket game he's going to be really special."
The AAU tournament, which features games on eight different courts, begins this evening and extends through Sunday afternoon.
Malik Hall, a 6-7, 210-pound forward, is Dante’s teammate at Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita and with MoKan’s 17-and-under team. Hall, ranked No. 49 in the Class of 2019, also is being recruited by Kansas.
Prepare to be blown away by this video of Dante:
This new-age philosophy that if you don't shoot a ton of 3-pointers you're doomed to fail rubs me so wrong that I decided to look at the past 16 Final Four teams in four different categories listed on Kenpom.com, the first two dealing with the volume of 3-pointers taken, another with 3-point accuracy and a fourth with the size of teams.
Size turned out to be the most common thread for Final Four squads, only slightly ahead of 3-point accuracy, and the two least important factors are 3-point frequency.
So the idea that teams that don't chuck 3-pointers don't cut it anymore is hogwash. A look at Final Four teams from the past four NCAA tournaments:
|Final Four Team||Pct. of points
|3-pt FG pct.
|2015 Duke*||27.5 (205)||33.4 (198)||38.7 (26)||77.5 (57)|
|2015 Wisconsin||29.8 (139)||37.4 (89)||36.5 (79)||79.2 (2)|
|2015 Michigan State||31.8 (88)||35 (153)||38.5 (29)||76.2 (240)|
|2015 Kentucky||21.0 (326)||27.1 (325)||34.9 (143)||79.3 (1)|
|2016 Villanova*||33.4 (71)||42.7 (31)||36.2 (105)||77.3 (93)|
|2016 North Carolina||20.3 (342)||26.7 (338)||32.7 (259)||77.8 (59)|
|2016 Oklahoma||38.9 (14)||40.7 (59)||42.2 (2)||77 (122)|
|2016 Syracuse||36.5 (27)||42.1 (41)||36 (114)||78.6 (11)|
|2017 North Carolina*||25.3 (294)
||30.3 (306)||35.5 (148)||77.9 (35)|
|2017 Gonzaga||26.6 (270)||32.8 (258)||38.2 (42)||78.5 (8)|
|2017 Oregon||32.8 (111)||38.9 (112)||38 (47)||77.4 (91)|
|2017 South Carolina||27.3 (254)||33.5 (247)||33.4 (245)||77.1 (127)|
|2018 Villanova*||40.2 (15)||47.5 (12)||40.1 (11)||77.3 (96)|
|2018 Michigan||35.6 (81)||43.2 (59)||35.2 (156)||77.8 (50)|
|2018 Kansas||37 (50)||41.2 (84)||40.1 (10)||77.7 (55)|
|2018 Loyola-Chicago||30.4 (189)||35.4 (229)
||39.8 (17)||76.5 (229)|
|Color key:||Top third||Middle third||Bottom third|
The beauty of the rule that allows college players to declare for the NBA draft without hiring an agent and then attend the NBA draft combine is that some of the best basketball mechanics in the world give them a free look under the hood and then present them with options and advice on how to become more efficient.
One of those options is to return to school if NBA talent judges tell them they aren’t ready for the world’s most competitive league and let them know what they need to improve to become more prepared.
From the outside, it seems as if Udoka Azubuike faces two easy decisions: Declare for the draft without hiring and agent and then return to school for another year after the NBA people tell them what they undoubtedly will, which is that he needs to develop a face-the-basket shot and a better shot from the free-throw line. With any luck, Ricky Barry will be hired at the last minute to work the camp.
Azubuike represents a classic example of a player who would benefit from returning to school. His high ceiling means that by jumping too soon he’ll deny himself the opportunity to come closer to his ceiling if he jumps too soon and rots on an NBA bench.
Even the G League isn’t a great option for him because most guards in that league hog the ball and would deny Azubuike the touches he needs to develop a better offensive game. He never would gain the confidence needed to become significantly better offensively. Plus, he can work on doing a better job of guarding face-up big men and improve his ability to guard the pick-and-roll, which he'll need to do constantly in the NBA.
He’ll have an even better chance to figure out how to score and pass out of double-teams next season. Defenses won’t be as mindful of shutting down 3-point shooters simply because Kansas won’t have as many, so Azubuike will be a great focal point of defenses. He'll need to become more creative and he has shown, even more than most, the more experience he gains, the better he becomes.
Why even go to the combine? Better question: why not?
He’s not likely to hear anything his coaches don’t already tell him, but affirmation never hurts. Azubuike’s a tremendous NBA prospect, but at this point that’s all he is, a prospect. He’ll add more polish playing in pressure-packed games in front of big crowds than in the G League and will gain more confidence as one of the main pieces of a highly ranked team.
You likely have heard it uttered about Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Tom Izzo or Bill Self, if not all four, at least once: "Yeah, but he's only won one national title."
As if coaches who have won multiple titles are walking all over the place at the Final Four. Before reading the next paragraph, close your eyes and see if you can guess how many active college basketball coaches have won multiple national titles.
Now open them. The answer is three: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (five), North Carolina's Roy Williams (three) and Villanova's Jay Wright.
There are only seven active coaches who have won at least one.
|Mike Krzyzewski (5)
||Duke||1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015
|Roy Williams (3)
||2005, 2009, 2017
|Jay Wright (2)
In addition to the three active college coaches with multiple NCAA tournament titles, 11 coaches who are either deceased, retired or working in the NBA have won more than once.
||1948, 1949, 1951, 1958
||UCLA||1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969
1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975
||Indiana||1976, 1981, 1987
||1999, 2004, 2011